Our largest Pinot Gris vineyard is located on Middle Ridge. The vineyard straddles the fog line and overlooks the valley floor. Navarro's crew spent a year preparing the site and laying out the vineyard. When we finally looked up, we realized that the vineyard had the same silhouette as Italy. How fitting for Mendocino where most of the first winemakers were Italian Americans. Twelve years ago we planted the lower half of the field in Pinot Nero (Noir) and above the fog line we planted Pinot Grigio (Gris). We produced our first Pinot Gris in 1993 and after four vintages we had settled on a method of vinification that is a riff on how Navarro makes Gewürztraminer. The biggest difference occurs right before the grapes are turned into juice. Gewürztraminer skins are very aromatic and cold juice is allowed to macerate with the skins for a few hours to pick up aromatics. Pinot Gris skins are dark colored and resemble their cousin Pinot Noir. However, Gris skins are astringent so we try to separate the juice from the skins as fast as possible.
Pecorina, a livestock guard dog, enjoys guarding the pickers during the night harvests.
Navarro's vineyard crew harvests in the early morning beginning at 2 or 3 AM to ensure that the grapes arrive cool at the winery. A section of the vineyard is lighted by portable floodlights and each member of the crew wears a halogen headlamp to help spot every grape.
The balance of the winemaking is similar: cold fermentation in seasoned oak ovals, aging sur lie for seven months and bottling with minimum filtration. Gris is about texture and there is a silky quality that leaves an essential oil impression on the palate. The wine is exquisitely tart and refreshing with flavors of lime, melon and hazelnut. Gold Medal winner. Best of Class.
Navarro customers aren't the only ones who appreciate the fruit from Middle Ridge. Wild turkeys are particularly fond of ripening Pinot Gris and claw marks from black bears have shown up on the gate posts that lead to the vineyard.